I was raised by a church lady. My mother was a woman who lived on coffee and the Bible. And you could find her each morning, on the sofa, before work, holding both.
“Go upstairs and shower,” she’d say when she saw me walking downstairs in the mornings. Then, she’d take a sip and go back to reading.
And I would take a shower because you always do what a church lady tells you. Always.
My mother gave me my first taste of coffee when I was a 5-year-old. I was over the moon. She couldn’t have picked a worse beverage to give a hyperactive child who could not sit still through an entire episode of Gilligan’s Island.
I was so grateful to her, coffee was an adult pleasure that seemed illicit somehow.
My mother always made her coffee the same way. She used a Corningware percolator on a stovetop, like church ladies have been doing since Adam and Eve attended the first Billy Graham crusade. When her coffee was ready, it would be hot enough to rip the flesh from the roof of your mouth and scald your liver.
That first morning, she gave me half a cup. It steamed. It smelled beautiful.
“How do you want it?” she asked.
“In a cup, please.”
“No, how do you take your coffee?”
“No, sweetie, I mean what do you want in your coffee?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s make it pretty.”
“That just means extra cream and extra sugar.”
Soon, my cup sat before me, fixed pretty. It was the color beige.
My mother grinned and said, “This is kinda nice, I don’t ever have anyone to sit and drink coffee with. Your father doesn’t drink coffee, he drinks Coke instead.”
And that’s the story of how I became my mother’s drinking buddy.
It meant a lot to me, being able to share that pleasure with my mother. On special occasions, she would sometimes let me brew coffee on the stove. I would always ask how she wanted her coffee—though I already knew.
“Make mine pretty,” she would say.
So, that’s how I drank my coffee as a boy, just like she did. Until the day I noticed my grandfather took his coffee black. I would never have known this except that I found his old coffee mug on the workbench. Inside the mug was dark, ugly, tar-like coffee substance.
I had to know how it tasted.
I took one sip of the stuff and almost gagged. At that age, it was the worst mess I had ever put in my mouth—not counting the time my friend Arnold Beasley dared me to drink the contents of what turned out to be his older brother’s snuff cup.
But no matter how bad the coffee tasted, something about this black coffee business made me feel like a real man. Therefore, I never took sugar or cream in my coffee again. Today, I wouldn’t put cream or sugar into coffee on a bet.
I became a novelty among my parents’ friends. My mother would let me brew coffee for her church lady peers, using the Corningware percolator. Her friends would marvel at how strange it was to see a child making coffee.
Then, I would pour myself a stiff black cup, yawn, and say to one of the church ladies, “So how ‘bout them Braves?”
They would almost pass a kidney stone.
“You let your son drink caffeine?” they would exclaim to my mother.
She would only shrug. “Only a little, besides, there’s more caffeine in a Ko-Kola.”
My mother and I were on the same wavelength. She understood me better than most people on this earth. Always has.
Today, I visited a small church in the woods of Covington County. I was invited by a group of Baptist women who I never met. It wasn’t a religious meeting, per se, these women were part of a quilting circle, and that’s what I was there to write about.
But when I arrived early, a white-haired elderly woman was already there, she asked me if there were any coffee to be had.
It was pure reflex. “Coming right up,” I said.
I found my way into the kitchen and by the time I found an aluminum percolator, the rest of the women had started arriving.
Thus, instead of writing about a quilting circle, I received 13 coffee orders. Most of these women wanted their coffees fixed pretty.
While the pot boiled, I met a lady named Matilda, who was situating saucers beneath each cup, and spoons on each saucer.
I told her about the first time my mother ever let me have coffee. It was the same tale I just told you.
She laughed. Her laugh reminded me of the good woman who raised me. My mother has a marvelous laugh.
“That story brings back good memories,” Matilda said. “You should write about that on your blog thingy, or whatever you call it.”
Well, you must always do what a church lady tells you.